The Third Pylon was built a few decades before the Hypostyle Hall in the reign of Amenhotep III (ca. 1390-1352 BCE). Although Amenhotep III may have built the Third Pylon earlier in his reign, he did not inscribe it until the last decade of his reign during preparations for his first Heb-Sed festival, the pharaonic jubilee celebrated after 30 years on the throne. The Pylon is most famous for what was inside it, not what Amenhotep carved on its walls. When it was restored in the early 1900s, several hundred blocks from earlier buildings were discovered inside. Enough was found to reconstruct a number of smaller monuments, including the lovely “white chapel” of the Middle Kingdom pharaoh Senwosret I (ca. 1965-1920 BCE) and the “red chapel” of Queen Hatshepsut (ca. 1472-1458 BCE) which has just been rebuilt. These and other “stuffing” from the Third Pylon make up most of the Open Air Museum today.
The south tower of the Third Pylon, east face with inscriptions of Amenhotep III and Ramesses III. Only the lower parts of this once towering structure remain. Behind are the columns of the Great Hypostyle Hall.
The forward part of Amun’s gilded river barge the Userhet. A headless image of Amenhotep III stands in front of the cabin-shrine making offerings to the god’s portable bark that rests inside the barge’s cabin. Below is a long inscription of Ramesses III with deeply incised hieroglyphs arranged in three rows of text.
The aft portion of Amun’s Userhet barge with its large steering oars and ram-headed stern piece. A headless figure of Amenhotep III stands behind the cabin-shrine manning a long oar. The inscription of Ramesses III continues below the scene.
The royal barge of Amenhotep III towing Amun’s river barge. The royal ship is manned by rowers with long oars.
The inscriptions on the Third Pylon are not without interest. On the rear wall of the north tower is a huge scene showing the great gilded barge of the god Amen-Re being towed by the king’s barge. Amenhotep III appears twice on either side of the temple-like cabin which held the portable shrine of the god when it was transported by Nile from Karnak to Luxor or to the west bank.
Behind Amenhotep III (right) stands a smaller image of a king who’s figure has been erased. The style of carving and traces of the royal name suggest the image was that of Tutankhamun who inserted his image behind that of his grandfather when he repaired the damaged the image of Amun’s bark defaced by Akhenaten. Later, Horemheb erased Tutankhamun’s figure and replaced it with a table piled with food offerings.
Behind Amenhotep III in both cases are the shadowy traces of two more royal figures which were later erased. A fierce debate about these erased images has raged for decades among Egyptologists. Some believe them to be Akhenaten (ca. 1352-1336 BCE) from the beginning of his reign, and evidence for a coregency (i.e., joint reign) between Akhenaten and Amenhotep III. Other scholars doubt this.
The erased image of Tutankhamen on the Third Pylon of Amenhotep III at Karnak. The king’s image was removed by Horemheb who replaced it with a table of food offerings.
Another erased image of Tutankhamun standing behind Amenhotep III on the aft deck of Amun’s river barge. This time Horemheb replaced it with a personified ankh-sign with two arms holding up a large fan.
The matter was effectively settled by the late William J. Murnane, who closely inspected the erased reliefs and found traces of the royal cartouches that best suit Tutankhamen and Akhenaten not at all. Tutankhamen (ca. 1336-1327 BCE) tried to associate himself with his grandfather Amenhotep by repairing the damage to these reliefs by Akhenaten during the Amarna period and inserting his own image next to Amenhotep’s.
Scenes engraved on the hull of Amun’s Userhet-barge on the east face of the Third Pylon at Karnak. These miniature scenes represent sheets of heavy gold foil embossed with scenes which plated the hull of the actual barge. Akhenaten defaced images of the gods and Tutankhamun later restored them. Later still, Horemheb re-restored them by enlarging the figures of the gods. Double lines along the limbs and feathered headdresses of Amun and the falcon headed god Monthu (lower, left) mark this double restoration. During the Middle Ages, Christian iconoclasts again defaced the images of the gods and king by pecking at their faces.
Further proof of this came to light when Peter Brand discovered that images of the gods on the hull of the barge had been restored twice in the post-Amarna era. Elsewhere, the same pattern of double restorations occur when Horemheb (ca. 1323-1291 BCE) or Seti I had Tutankhamen’s repairs made over again; an example of Ancient Egyptian “political correctness.”
A miniature image of Amun’s Userhet-barge depicted on the golden hull plating of the actual barge itself. Although this relief names Amenhotep III, it was recarved by Tutankhamun after Akhenaten had defaced it.